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Niagara County law enforcers seek access to private security cameras

When a Niagara Falls man robbed and assaulted a Japanese tourist on Christmas night 2015, surveillance video provided the crucial evidence that led to his rapid arrest and eventual conviction.

But when a teenager was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Wheatfield in 2014, the case lagged for months before an arrest could be made, in part because of the inability to promptly find video evidence.

So Niagara County law enforcers have come up with a way to learn the locations of more surveillance cameras. They want businesses and residents to register their cameras with the District Attorney's Office and police departments.

Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said getting people to register their cameras with her office will make it easier for police to obtain private-sector surveillance video, because they already will know where the cameras are. Owners will have the option to share the internet addresses of their cameras to make access to the video even easier.

"This is our way to empower the public to help us fight crime," Wojtaszek said. "Our goal is to work with the public to blanket this county with security cameras to assist in criminal investigations.

"I am going to encourage other police departments to push 'Operation Safe Cam,' " Wojtaszek said. "I need the community groups, the block clubs."

"More cameras can only enhance the safety of the people of Niagara Falls," Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said.

Also on Wednesday, law enforcement officials announced agreements to share each other's video camera feeds.

Niagara Falls Police Officer Paul Kudela, Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek and Kirk Kingsbury, criminal intelligence officer with the Niagara County DA's Office, talk at the Niagara County Crime Analysis Center in Niagara Falls. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The Niagara County Crime Analysis Center receives live feeds from two dozen fixed surveillance cameras operated by the city, as well as an undisclosed number of mobile cameras and about 200 cameras mounted at the city's public schools.

The interdepartmental agreements will make it possible for officers throughout the county to share video evidence.

The analysis center — one of eight in the state — was funded primarily by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Kirk Kingsbury, a 27-year veteran of the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, started work at the center Monday as the county's crime intelligence officer. Kingsbury is an employee of the District Attorney's Office.

Surveillance video from the Maid of the Mist building showed MacLeod knocking the tourist down, punching her and stealing her purse, while video from the Rainbow Bridge showed his vehicle making a turn to follow the woman, who was identifiable as a lone pedestrian that night.

"We could have really used Operation Safe Cam back in November of 2014, when 16-year-old Ryan Fischer was killed by a hit-and-run motorist on Krueger Road in Wheatfield," Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti said. "Eventually, the driver was arrested and indicted around September of 2015. Surveillance cameras played a major role in that investigation, but there was a lot of leg work finding those cameras in residences and businesses."

Niagara Falls Intelligence Officer Paul Kudela said the city's arsenal of video cameras can help in crimes and also with quality of life issues.

"Illegal dumping is a huge problem, and a huge initiative the city has taken on to combat that is, we put up cameras in hot spots throughout the city, that we have access to here in the center," Kudela said.

"It's really good for us but really bad for the bad guys," Filicetti said.

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